I was born on Tanzania (then Tanganyika) and as a result Ali was keen to persuade me to travel with him to Tanzania to see what the Eleanor Foundation (“EF”) was doing. Having seen first-hand during the time I lived in Tanzania the corruption associated with overseas charitable efforts alongside programmes organised by well-wishers with the best intentions at heart that in most cases ended in failure, I was very sceptical of what Ali and the Eleanor Foundation were attempting to do, again all for very good reasons.
It took Ali a year or so and probably one or two beers too many until I was eventually persuaded to join him on a trip. I first travelled with him in February 2015 and now have not only been back another 2 times but have committed to support EF by leading on a Water Sanitation and Hygiene (“WaSH”) programme as well as generally. The WaSH programme supports the main focus of EF which is to work in partnership with individuals and communities to provide improved access to the basic needs of life, particularly water, sanitation and hygiene. Specifically the foundation is working in the Biharamulo and Chato Districts in North West Tanzania.
The journey from Guernsey to Biharamulo normally takes 24 hours – Guernsey to London Gatwick, Gatwick to Istanbul, Istanbul to Dar es Salaam, Dar es Salaam to Mwanza (the nearest airport in Tanzania to Bihalamuro) and Mwanza to Biharamulo. Until Mwanza transport is by plane but Mwanza to Biharamulo is by car, takes 6 hours and involves a 30 min ferry ride across Lake Victoria. Why so long? Well, firstly it is a long way to get there by plane, secondly all trips are self-funded so the cheapest option is taken and finally once you arrive it is a long journey to get to Biharamulo. Once in location most field trips involve lengthy journeys made longer by the poor condition of roads or lack of roads altogether which is why having a suitable vehicle is an absolute necessity. EF now has its own vehicle and the benefits arising were obvious from using it for the first time in February especially not having to rely on “borrowing” a vehicle.
Whilst it was great to be back in Tanzania, a feeling of returning home – the sounds, smells, red earth, dust, humidity, vibrant colours and big skies – I was shocked by not only how little the rural communities had progressed from when I was last in Tanzania over 40 years ago but also the poverty which was clear to be seen and from the local papers corruption was still endemic. So, my initial thoughts were, “I think EF and the team are doing a great job and in a sustainable and auditable way but I suspect that if I came back in a few years let alone another 10 years or longer I would be seeing the same problems so Ali and EF are just wasting their time, effort and the money donated.”
What caused me to change my mind?
There was a combination of four main factors that lead me to change my mind.
The first was a little girl called Kefline. I was moved by the community in Chato that despite their own hardships they were prepared to help not with money but providing a pencil, or shoes or paper to help Kefline get to school. So, I decided to find out more and I am now supporting her and her brothers through school and finding ways for the parents to better support themselves and the family at an annual cost of 3 to 4 decent meals out in Guernsey. Point one: money, even a small amount, properly dispersed, meaning it is a hand up not a hand out, will change lives and give people a chance to better themselves.
Secondly, and again despite their own significant challenges, I have seen communities prioritising who may get the little help that may be on offer, particularly where there is a widow or grandparents looking after grandchildren where the parents have died, usually from HIV. Point two: Even in a poor and challenged community in rural Tanzania there are others worse off where any small help will be life changing – building a four room house with tin roof and cement floor tom provide a home for a challenged family will cost circa £1,000.
Thirdly, the challenges facing communities in rural Tanzania and indeed those that are presented to EF wherever they go will never all be resolved, only very few, so these become overwhelming in their enormity as well as emotionally as you find yourself saying “no” more often than “yes”. EF by putting in an improved water source such as a shallow well that is, and this is the crucial part – sustainable, will end up providing a cleaner source of water and usually a closer source for a few thousand people (although the shallow well is designed for 300 to 400 people it is always used by significantly more) and will improve those lives. Point three: Not all challenges presented can be resolved but a few definitely can so we need to focus on what is achievable, what has been successfully delivered and not on what we cannot do as every little bit will make a difference if delivered sustainably. A shallow well costs around £2,500.
Fourthly, and most crucially, EF will not provide an improved water source or any other projects unless there is a contribution, a buy in and ownership by the beneficiaries of what is being delivered. This is then monitored to ensure that the beneficiaries meet their side of the bargain with the goal that this will ensure the behaviour change required to make the improved facility sustainable in the longer term which means eventually without EF oversight. There is plenty of evidence across the two districts in which EF is focussing its efforts where this has not happened; water pumps abandoned and communities going back to the traditional and contaminated water sources. Point four: A hand up NOT a hand out that is then monitored until it is clear that the beneficiaries have indeed taken full ownership and full control for the maintenance to ensure what has been provided will be long lasting.
So, as you can see, a little can go a long way and will be effective and long lasting if ownership is taken by the community or individual of the solution delivered so that it then becomes sustainable. Over the long term NGOs such as EF may not be around so it is important that the communities themselves do run and maintain the shallow well or whatever is delivered. This requires a behavioural change and EF with its local team supported on the ground with twice yearly visits from Guernsey ensure that communities and individuals are meeting their side of the bargain. The evidence that this is working is that communities seeking help from EF have usually gathered the basic materials of sand and rocks required to build a shallow well ahead of visits by EF.
It is worth repeating, a little goes a long way in rural Tanzania and indeed the EF motto is: Haba na haba, hujaza kibaba (translated from Swahili: Little by little, little becomes a lot). There is also a saying that Ali quotes which is, “If you do not think small things make a difference then you have never shared a room with a mosquito at night.”
We also made some impromptu small donations on the latest visit to Tanzania. At Buseresere School we met a young boy who was disabled and between us donated funds to purchase a wheelchair of Tzs 270,000 (around £100). At Mutundu EF matched the Government funding of 1,000,000 TZs (around £400). At Mnekezi Secondary School of the 7 bikes that had been presented by EF for use by students who live far away, 4 were no being used as no finds for maintenance but the use of the bikes had helped 3 leaving students to attain better grades giving each a chance of progressing into higher education or a job with the Government and we donated 120,000 TZs (around £45). All the above were received gratefully and with much fanfare as notwithstanding these are all small amounts, in every case it will not only give an immediate hand up boost but in the longer term a chance to improve their lot. The community can also see what EF is doing when they are able to.
Whilst I have mentioned a number of small activities EF was involved with a large project when it took on the completion of Mutundu Dispensary. This was done with funds from Guernsey Overseas Aid and on our recent visit in February we saw the impact the clinic has already had on the local community. We met the doctor and his two nurses as well as the first mother to have her baby at the clinic, only 17 years old. As we saw, there is more to be done and EF hospe it can continue to help with equipment from recycling this from other hospitals.
So, to the WaSH project for EF. This project utilises Solar Disinfection (“SODIS”) combined with washing of hands using the Tippy Tap.
Put simply SODIS is collecting water from your water source in a clear plastic bottle, up to 2 litres, securing the top and if you can see your fingers through the water in the bottle then SODIS will work. You place the filled bottled on its side for 6 to 8 hours or two full days if cloudy.
The sun’s UV rays kill the micro-organisms in the water making it safe for human consumption. It is a simple, sustainable and affordable method that when implemented correctly, has been proven to change the lives of thousands of people. The project focuses on water treatment at the point of consumption because this provides the least opportunity for re-infection of the water with pathogens subsequent to other treatment methods (e.g. filters).
Whilst in Chato in 2015 I put the SODIS method to the test as I strongly believe that if you expect people to accept the concept you are selling then you need to have done it yourself also. I collected water from a local drinking source (which happened to be next to a sewer for the village) and placed it in clear plastic bottles in the sun as directed. However, I exposed the bottles to 2 days of sun instead of the minimum 6 hours. I drank the water resulting from the test and had no ill effects (although it did taste a bit strange).
To help reduce water borne diseases SODIS must be combined with washing of hands. This is where the Tippy Tap comes in. The Tippy Tap is a hands free way to wash your hands that is especially appropriate for rural areas where there is no running water. It is operated by a foot lever and thus reduces the chance for bacteria transmission as the user touches only the soap. It uses only 40 millilitres of water to wash your hands versus 500 millilitres using a mug. Additionally, the used “waste” water can go to plants or back into the water table.
On behalf of EF I initiated a pilot scheme in two schools in Biharamulo in August 2015, one a primary school of around 1,000 children and the other a secondary school of around 400 children. We chose to pilot through the schools to use the children as agents of behavioural change. We visited the two schools in February 2017 and were amazed to see how well they had adapted to SODIS and Tippy Tap and the teachers in both schools reported a drop in absenteeism due to water borne diseases; malaria is still a big problem. The hope is to roll out this programme to other schools and communities if the funding efforts are successful.
I have now involved my son-in-law’s father who is developing and building a well monitoring system and trying to help another NGO in Tanzania in finding a solution for its latrine designed for rural use that will make it easier to deliver for that last mile whilst remaining affordable.
Finally, I have no regrets that I had those extra beers with Ali and was persuaded to make that initial trip. Yes, the days are long, the journeys uncomfortable, the risk of the “squits” ever present, the mosquitos and lake flies annoying, cold showers initially not welcome but soon looked forward to, having to use a hole in the ground or a convenient bush for comfort breaks but I know this is just for a couple of weeks. Despite a cold Kilamanjaro at the end of a field trip, this not only makes you more appreciative what you have back home often tinged with some guilt when compared to the rural communities and individuals that we visited who have very little or no choice without a hand up. I have been humbled by the circumstances of the people we see and the sometimes desperate requests made and the dashing of hopes as if EF was their last chance and EF has had to say “no”. It puts a different perspective on life and can be emotionally draining. But, when EF is able to say “yes” this is a very rewarding experience for all involved as notwithstanding the projects are small the differences and impacts are enormous. This has inspired me, and I suspect many others who have visited the EF projects in Tanzania with Ali, to try and do something to help so that indeed Little by little, little becomes a lot.